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What is Paper Marbling?

Paper marbling is an ancient art tradition in many cultures. Marbling is named so because it mimics the natural patterns found in marble and other stones. Marbled paper is created by floating colorful inks on the surface of water, or a viscous water-based solution known as size. Ink is typically applied to the surface using a pipette or other dripping method. The inks are then swirled to create complex patterns that can be transferred to paper or fabric.

The ink can be manipulated by blowing on the water, using a special comb, or running other tools over the surface of the size to create designs. When a sheet of paper is laid upon the surface and quickly lifted, it grabs the floating ink pattern from the solution. Each sheet of marbled paper is a unique monotype—no two pages will ever look the same!

Major Marbling Traditions

Paper marbling has been used for centuries to create decorations, manuscripts and books. Marbling techniques spread throughout the ancient Middle East and into Europe. Sheets of marbled paper were traditionally used by European bookmakers as book-ends—the paper was favored for hiding bumps from leather turn-ins and chords.

Marbling continues to be very popular in Turkey, where it is called ebru; some artists use combs and other tools to create extremely intricate ink patterns. Most marbling kits in art and craft styles are ebru style marbling kits.

Japanese suminagashi marbling involves using a brush dipped in ink and a brush dipped in water that has had a dispersant, like ox gall or soap, added. The water is untreated. Taking turns touching each brush to the water’s surface, concentric circles are created as the ink is repelled by the dispersant.

Selecting Marbling Paper

A variety of materials can be used to marble paper. Always make sure you use thick, untreated paper that will hold up well after submerging in water. Some marbling processes require you to treat the paper with alum solution before marbling. Follow the directions for the marbling kit you purchase. Water color paper works well for marbling, as well as thick printing papers. Any paper that is unsized and can withstand submersion in water will make excellent marbling paper. Thin but strong papers like Hosho rice paper can also be used.

Size and Inks

Many substances can be used to thicken water and create a size for your marbling inks. Gum tragacanth, carrageenan, methyl cellulose, and liquid starch are all substances that can be used to make size solution. Both oil based and water based inks can be used to marble paper. India ink, acrylic ink and watered down acrylic can be used with different sizes.